I may be a week too late for Friday the 13th, but I just finished rereading The Amityville Horror. One of my current projects required my paying close attention to what was and was not claimed, and although it doesn’t count towards my Goodreads goal, I just had to do it. I noticed, as also occurred to me when rereading Gerald Brittle’s The Demonologist earlier, that the second time through raises more questions than the first. The book has been demoted from nonfiction to novel over the years, but it seems pretty clear that Jay Anson believed it to be based on actual events. He could’ve been wrong, of course, but with a long list of documentary writing credits to his name one does have to wonder. Anson died just a year after the film came out.
When the movie was released I was still in high school and what everyone was saying about how scary it was kept me out of theaters. (That, and lack of funds.) It’s hard to imagine now, but there weren’t even VHS options in those days, especially for those of humble circumstances. As a result, I was well into adulthood before I saw the cinematic version. Reading the book, however, is an attempt to pry open the question of what might’ve happened at one of the most famous “haunted houses” this side of the Atlantic. I’d just read a headline that the house had been sold again, and such was the impact of this story that a simple property transaction is now considered news in some circles.
Controversy permeates this tale. I suspect that’s because it made a lot of money. The search for the truth is often compromised by lucre—just look at the White House and try to disagree. The usual rendering is that the Lutz family, in financial trouble, concocted a story that would bring in big bucks. Such accusations came, of course, once the story did indeed prove valuable. The second highest grossing film of 1979, The Amityville Horror held records for the highest grossing independent film for a decade. Add to that the estimated book sales of 10 million copies and you have a nice retirement account laid up. Those levels of remuneration are enough to corrupt any narrative. Still, it’s clear that many people wonder what really went on at the house on Ocean Avenue. I sat down with the book again and I have to admit that I’m no wiser on the question for having read it again.